Part of the Call: Identifying Injustices

Jessica Crist was blessed with supportive parents who encouraged her to dream dreams of things she had never thought about. Her mother was the first director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) Commission for Women.  

As a teenager, during a particular confirmation class, she recalled the pastor talking about the various careers available in the church. When he asked who would like to be a pastor, her hand went up. And he got very uncomfortable, hemming and hawing, finally saying that wouldn’t work out for her. For confirmand Jessica, that was a “note to self” moment that would be filed away for many years.

The pastor didn’t realize the resolve of young woman whose dreams he was dismissing that day. The pastor didn’t realize that confirmand Jessica would eventually graduate from with a degree in English literature from Yale University, a divinity degree from Harvard University and become a future ELCA Bishop.

Growing up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Jessica was progressive, working for the National Organization of Women (NOW) during one of her college summers. (NOW promotes equality and justice in the workplace, schools, justice system, and other sectors of society.)

As a pastor, Jessica was ordained in 1979 and served the University Lutheran Church on the Harvard campus.  A variety of calls and positions came after she and her husband moved to Montana. In 2007, she succeeded Rich Omland as the first female bishop of the Montana Synod. In 2011, she was elected the Chair of the 65 Bishops in the ELCA, the first woman to hold the post. Bishop Jessica Crist strives to be open and fair, as she works for justice in the world and in the church. 

As one of 10 female bishops in the ELCA, Jessica Crist has modeled leadership on difficult issues facing the church. She points to her college chaplain at Yale University, William Sloane Coffin, who influenced her to approach the church with a unique perspective. Because he had been very active in anti-war and liberal causes, she said, he modeled how to pull scholarly integrity and social justice together in the church.

Sexism is a still systemic sin. Lord, help us all to work against the powers of injustice and prejudice.